The other morning, just a few minutes into our appointment, a patient I was working with blurted out the dreaded statement that drives me absolutely bonkers.
"I bet you eat whatever you want."
I've ranted about this statement before, how it puts me on the defense, feeling accused of saying one thing while doing another. If I respond no and explain my plant-based, minimally processed diet, devoid of cheetos, sodas and fast food, I worry I'll sound like an obsessive calorie counter. If you're a regular reader, you know that is absolutely not the case. What makes me so uncomfortable about the question is that I don't know how to clearly articulate the truth.
And the truth is, well, I do eat whatever I want.
Y'all know I love cheese, goodness knows I've talked about it enough on this blog. Buttery, flaky croissants are a much loved, nostalgic treat, bringing me back to my first trip overseas, where my passion for good food was first ignited. And there's nothing quite like a good burger. Washed down with a hoppy IPA, well, I'm just in heaven.
Truth be told, I could probably eat these foods all day every day and still be about the same size I am now. I know, I was one of those jerks blessed with a high metabolism. If my parents are any indication, I've got a good 10 more years before it'll show any sign of slowing. So why don't I gorge myself silly on cheese, croissants and burgers until then?
It's because I don't want to.
I may love burgers, but I also love salads of whole grains and crunchy vegetables smothered in creamy tahini dressing, spicy vegetarian chili and avocado on everything. I love creative food that is lovingly prepared with fresh, high quality ingredients. Over the years, I've built a repertoire of healthy dishes I enjoy just as much, if not more, than cheese, croissants and burgers.
People often say "I just love food to much to eat healthy!", but I think it makes eating healthy easier. Why not eat more of the food you love, that just happens to be good for you? Sounds a heck of a lot easier than deprivation to me!
There's another reason you're unlikely to run into me at McDonalds (except maybe for a pee break on a long road trip - that's highly likely). Although I strive to eat healthy, first and foremost, I strive to eat delicious food every day. It sets a high standard and limits my splurges to dishes that are "worth it." As much as I love a hamburger, a whopper with cheese (aka weird conglomeration of fat, salt, white flour and preservatives) does nothing for me. Now, the burger at our local burger joint that's smothered in spicy pimento cheese, and topped with a fried green tomato and jalapeno bacon, that does something for me!
Creating healthy versions of the "bad" food I enjoy is another strategy that keeps me finding pleasure in my healthy diet. Many people try this approach, but it goes wrong when they compare it to the original version. No, lentil meatballs don't taste like your Italian grandmothers, dairy-free macaroni and cheese should not be compared to anything served at Thanksgiving, and this tofu burger does not taste like beef. But that's okay. Just because it's different, doesn't mean it's not equally tasty. Enjoy these dishes for what they are, not for what they're not.
So, after six years of being a practicing dietitian, I finally came up with the perfect response! I replied, "Yup, I do eat whatever I want, but whatever I want probably isn't what you're thinking!"
- 16 ounces extra-firm, organic tofu
- 2 large organic eggs
- 1/2 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup cashews
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked chili powder (or 1/2 teaspoon regular chili powder plus 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika)
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 100% whole grain hamburger buns, toasted
- Pickles...lots and lots of pickles
- Sliced tomato
- Onion slices
- Olive oil mayo (spike it with harissa or sriracha if you like it extra spicy)
- At least 1 hour before making the burgers, drain the tofu and cut into 4 slices lengthwise. Place on a stack of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and top with more paper towels or another clean kitchen towel and something heavy to weigh it down. I used a plate topped with a couple cans of food. Feel free to do this in the morning before work.
- When ready to make burgers, place drained and pressed tofu in a food processor along with two eggs, breadcrumbs, nuts, mushrooms, mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire, spices and salt. Blend until everything comes together and is well combined. Divide into 4 portions and form each into a ball.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the tofu patties, pressing down with the back of a spatula. Cook until well browned and heated through, about 7 minutes on each side.
- Serve on a toasted whole grain bun with your choice of toppings. I went classic with mine and used a olive oil mayo spiked with spicy harissa paste.